Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tuesday Excerpts

First things first, my new job.


I'm liking it, mostly because the first day consisted of getting acquainted with the office and staff, then right out to St. Louis City Hall for some title searching. Using the Laredo database is pretty cool, but it's not nearly as fun as going into the records office and pulling out the books and looking things up on microfilm. That's awesome fun.

And, a plus, Andy (the guy for whom I work directly) was very approving of my car, the fact that it's a stick, and also noted that I have good taste in music just because I was listening to Sunny Day Real Estate. Sweet!

Right then, on to the excerpt.

For this week's excerpt, I am once again going to do something you should not get used to (even though this will be the second time I've done it). I am going to go ahead and post an entire piece, and it's something I wrote for school.

The reasoning behind this is that it will hopefully inspire you all to go watch some films while I am gone.

And no, if you know me, you can't borrow this film while I'm gone, because chances are that after I read my paper I will want to take it with me. For reals, yo.


The Stuff that Noir is Made Of, October 2006

To be considered Film Noir, a film must contain several elements. But the foundation for Film Noir is the story. Dashiell Hammet’s novel The Maltese Falcon provides the perfect story for Noir, but the story itself doesn’t ensure Film Noir. The story must be interpreted correctly; the worldview must be maintained and augmented for the screen. The film The Maltese Falcon (1941) is considered by many to be the first Film Noir. Why not the film of the same title, produced by the same studio ten years earlier? Quite simply, the version released in 1931 was a much more conventional Hollywood film, while the 1941 version was much darker, preserving the worldview of the Hammet novel.

Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade is cool, calm, and always ready. He barely seems to care when his partner, Miles Archer is murdered. He is able to outsmart Wilmer by stealing his guns, and never seems to sleep. Ricardo Cortez, on the other hand, is easily jarred and on edge. In the corresponding situations from above, Ricardo Cortez’s Sam Spade is awaken by the phone call announcing his partners death, after which he sits in bed (in his polka-dot pajamas) and repeats, “Dead?” as if he can’t believe it. He struggles to disarm Wilmer, requiring the help of Joel Cairo and Casper Gutman.

Joel, Casper and Wilmer are more or less the same between the two films, though Peter Lorre’s portrayal of Joel Cairo offers much more depth to that of Otto Matieson’s. Of the relationship between Cairo and Gutman, we receive no more than a hint in the 1941 version, as Sam leaves Casper’s hotel room and we see Cairo approach (though Sam does not). It is not until later, when Sam returns to Gutman’s room and is drugged, that we know that Cairo and Gutman are in league. These two separate scenes in the 1941 film are compressed into one scene in the 1931 film; while Sam and Casper discuss Sam’s compensation for helping secure the Falcon, Wilmer announces to them that “The Doctor has arrived.” Casper leaves Sam alone, and goes to confer with the doctor, who is found out to be Joel Cairo. Joel tells Casper of the imminent arrival of la Paloma, an ocean vessel arriving from Hong Kong that evening. Joel then explains that Miss Wunderly had been friendly with the captain of the ship, and he believes the captain to be in possession of the Falcon. When Casper returns to Sam, we know more than he does and he is drugged, and left. It is not until the captain arrives mortally wounded at Sam’s office that he has any inkling of what may be going on. When he searches the captain’s wallet and finds out whom he is Sam deduces what has transpired. Bogart’s Sam Spade is much more resourceful; when he is drugged, we know no more than he does, but we see Wilmer and Joel emerge as Sam descends into a stupor. When he comes to, he searches Casper’s room and finds the shipping news, and the arrival of la Paloma circled. He knows nothing of what it means, and neither do we, but together we go to the boat, just to follow the lead. This difference in approach is key to why the 1941 version is Noir and the 1931 version is not; Bogart’s Spade flies by the seat of his pants, and chases down the leads, while Cortez’s Spade lets things come to him while he tries to wrap his head around what has already happened.

Another important difference between the two different Sam Spades is in the depiction of the relationship between Sam Spade and the women of the story. In the 1941 version, we see only Sam’s side of the relationship with Mrs. Archer, she coming in only to be rejected by Sam. He says he should never have gotten involved with her. He confides everything in his secretary, Effie, in whom he has placed his sole trust, though he clearly has no sexual lust for her. Conversely, Cortez’s 1931 Sam Spade is first introduced to us escorting a beautiful woman out of his office. She pulls up her stockings as she exits, and he returns to his office to put the cushions back on the couch. Seconds later, Effie appears and he begins to nibble on her neck. She announces the arrival of Miss Wunderly, and he proceeds to pour the charm on. He is then interrupted by a phone call from Mrs. Archer, whom he slyly sweet-talks off the phone (as Miles Archer listens in on the other line in the office). While the 1941 Sam Spade is seemingly disgusted with the women he meets, the 1931 Sam Spade is depicted as vigorously juggling many separate relationships at once, including one with the duplicitous Miss Wunderly, Mary Astor in the 1941 film and Bebe Daniels in the 1931 film.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Brigid Shaughnessy in the 1931 version, though always referred to as Miss Wunderly) shares a relationship with Sam based on lies in both versions of the film. While other relationships vary between the two films, this one is fairly similar, though the similarities are characterized in different ways. In the 1941 version, Sam voices his mistrust of Brigid from the outset, making it perfectly clear to her that he does not trust her. The 1931 Sam, however, conceals his mistrust. There is a scene in the 1931 version, after a romantic tryst in Sam’s apartment, in which Sam steals her room key while she sleeps. He enters her room and searches for the Falcon, aware that Dr. Cairo suspects her of having possession of it. And at the end of the story, while Brigid is taken to jail, the two Sam Spades react in very different ways. Bogart’s Sam Spade walks away from her, telling her that when she is released she should find him, and see if he does love her. “Maybe I love you,” he tells her, “and maybe you love me.” Cortez’s Sam Spade delivers this same speech to Daniels’ Brigid, but while the 1941 film ends as she is taken away, the 1931 version takes us further. In this version of the story, Sam Spade visits Brigid in prison, and tells her to stay strong. He then tells the warden to do everything for Brigid to make her happy. The final twist comes when he is discovered to be no longer a private detective, but working on the side of good for the District Attorney’s office, something Bogart’s Sam Spade—and any true Noir hardboiled private-eye antihero—would ever do. The ending to the 1931 film is obviously an attempt at a happy ending; the evil woman is offered a shot at redemption, the womanizer is in love and willing to do anything it takes to make her happy, and he is no longer a rogue agent but a Knight in Shining Armor.

Ultimately, this formulaic approach to making Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon could only make it one of the hundred or so movies that came out of a studio in 1931. It was not a true adaptation of the novel but a Hollywood revamp. It took the smug grin of Humphrey Bogart and the sharp wit of screenwriter-director John Huston to really capture the hardboiled Sam Spade, the dark world of Film Noir, and to generate a classic film revered by many today. The 1931 film could never be nearly as successful as its newer version, and is most likely only remembered today as a curiosity, an addendum to the 1941 classic and a footnote in the history of Film Noir.


Ah, yes, so for some reason my computer's battery is no longer charging...so not only will I be without internet while in Colorado, I will also be without my computer as well. Oh well. Best Buy will have it, and they will replace my battery and my power cord and repair it if need be...but I hate being without it. I never wanted to be so dependent on a machine, yet here I am, a slave to my computer and also to my car. But at least they're both precision-tuned machines and good at what they do.


Molly said...

I have a key to your house... if the movie's missing when you get back, you know where to look....

mGk said...

I too have a key, but I am not sure I want to brave entrance, for fear of your guard Kitty. Attactodyl is the best guard Kitty I know.